- Semisonic, "Closing Time"
Today marks the end of an era, the day Risto Team (USAW weighlifting club) shuts its Maine training center and, some of its members, goes on the great American voyage to Florida. Yes, the team is trading one Vacationland for another vacation land of sorts--reverse snowbirding this summer.
We, the weightlifting team, leave riding a synchronistic wind of change. We did a lot right here in Maine, and now its time to go and spread the good word of weightlifting elsewhere.
When we came to Maine, there was no lifting in Maine. Ok, there was a powerlifting gym in Westbrook, Gilly's Gym in Waterville, but nothing you would call a dedicated - heart and soul- weightlifting gym. We were here long before crossfit dotted the land with boxes.
When we first came, it must have been over 25 year since a weightlifting meet had ever been held in Maine. So little lifting was going on, that around 2010, Maine LWC was absorbed into the New England LWC, probably where it really belonged.
I first came here lifting for Coffee's Gym. I lifted again for East Coast Gold. Then, finally, I competed for Risto Team, which only made sense after a weightlifting oasis was built in Eliot, ME. Interestingly, Coffee's Gym also closed this weekend, sadly , for good.
In 2011, we held the first weightlifting meet in about 30+ years in Maine. The legacy we left for Maine doesn't end there, there's a lot more:
1-We had the only National medalists from Maine whilst here
-- Me, Gwendolyn Sisto, too many gold, silver, and bronze medals at national level meets to count. Yes, I am dead serious, I lost count
-- Gwendolyn Rojas- two National Youth Championships Golds (she only collects gold medals apparently)
-- Emily McNally - youth national championships bronze
--Amylynne Frankel- National Masters Silver
2- We trained olympic medalists right in Eliot, Maine
- Maryam Usman, trained for several months with us in Maine, Olympic Bronze Medalist
- Luz Mercedes Acosta, also trained a few months with us in Maine, Olympic Bronze Medalist
- Diego Salazar, trained multiple, multiple times with us in Maine, Olympic Silver Medalist
-Honorary mention- Dmitry Klokov, Olympic Silver Medalist, did his photo shoot for his klokovequipment.com launch right in our gym. He commented, "this IS a weightlifting gym" , probably the biggest honor we could get from him.
|Klokov Russian-izing my start position at Risto Sports in Maine. Me, I'm like, "dude, I learned my starting position from Cuban National Coach Alfredo Gonzalez" Who did it better Cubans or Russians? lol|
3- We gave Maine the only people from Maine on National teams of any kind
- Gwendolyn Rojas competed at the Youth International invitational, and, ofcourse, brought home gold to Maine.
- Gwendolyn Sisto, World University Team whilst being a Maine resident.
-- funny story, at the time, I was going to MIT- Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The friggin' intern at USAW actually changed the as entered national meet results to read "Maine Institute of Technology" , because she couldn't believe that a person from Maine would go to the real MIT. Not sure if that was a Freudian slip on her behalf or says something about what she thinks of Maine-iacs.
- Gwendolyn Sisto , World Masters Games medalist
- Rob Morrison, World Masters Cup Champion
4- We gave Maine possibly the Only Maine person to ever hold an IWF world record
- Gwendolyn Sisto 2017 World Record Holder for 35-39, 63kg
5- One of only 3 2008 Olympic Trials athletes across every Olympic sport from Maine
- Gwendolyn Sisto, 53kg, 2008 Olympic Trials
6- Regional impact
We trained tons of people from across the globe right here in Maine. We, especially, had one of the best teams in New England. Honestly, most people came up from the Boston and Rhode Island area to train with us. There are many people who trained with us, only to start their own teams or keep lifting at a team closer to them.
In other words, there are several teams in New England that wouldn't have existed without us, because their coaches or key athletes- whether they like to admit or not-were trained by us.
Here's some of our contribution to the New England lifter National/International medals:
Melissa Siegel- Masters National Champion
Jessica Weisman - World Masters Champion, World Masters Games Medalist
Honorable Mention- Kaiti Bennet, National Collegiates Medalist
Other people I am probably forgetting and will be pissed at me because I did
People we distanced trained in secret, and I can't disclose ;)
A bunch of people that will probably be added to this list soon (Russy, Giorgio Armani ;)
7. Local Eliot/ South Berwick impact
We trained an entire cohort of Marshwood high school wrestlers in Olympic Lifting. These kids went on to win the state champions, multiple kids were all-Americans.
When I asked them why they didn't tell other kids from adjacent school districts about us, one kid notes , "we don't want our secret to get out" . Good for our local school district, not so good for business lol.
8. We increased the diversity in our locale by probably 200% everytime we had a training camp
I am so serious when I say Maine is probably the whitest place I have ever lived. I remember dropping my daughter off to her first day of Kindergarten thinking, "I see blonde people". Everyone is either some kind of white- like Northern European white- or Native American. Oh, and almost all the white people claim to be part Native American. I am not making this shit up. Good thing the "racial appropriation" police haven't taken up shop in Portland, Maine as the have in Portland, Oregon. Ok, there are "black people" in Maine, just almost all of them were born in Somalia. Maine is home to many Somalian Muslim refugees. And, we all get along =)
Maine people seem to have been exposed to so little diversity that they tend not to be racist at all and find new cultures as a novelty. This is also a sentiment that a "real Maine" person relayed to me. (Apparently, if 3 generations of your family weren't born here, then you can never really be "from Maine", thus I must seek out a "real Maine" person's opinion for legitimacy.)
Getting back on topic....
Just look at our Team photos. Completely unintentionally, we are probably one of the most diverse teams in the USAW if your consider our diversity make-up versus diversity make-up of our location.
On top of that, we also tend to train a lot of athletes from across South America - Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Panama , Cuba, etc. We brought Dr Herrera here. And of course , we've hosted the entire coaching staff from Kazakhstan(central Asia).
Outside of Olympic Medalists, we've had Youth and Junior World Champion Neisi Dajomes lift in our center, her coach Mayra Hoyos, Pam AM champions Johnny Andica, Elio Guerra, and Carlos Andica lift with us. And, Rocio Navarro of Panama.
So, everytime we have a big training session, you will probably find the highest concentration in York county, Maine of Asians, Latinos, Black, Jews, LGBTQ, and other so-called minorities right in our gym. Again, I don't know how it all worked out this way, it just did, and I think its cool.
In a nutshell, we did a ton for the state of Maine when it comes to establishing a weightlifting legacy. I'm not sure anyone in Maine actually recognizes this. Although people in the area seemed to appreciate us, most never took substantial time to hang out with us. Ok, they came to a seminar or two, and, yes, I do appreciate this. But, dude, we were RIGHT HERE. WE were right in the same state. For the first time, there were actual weightlifting people driving distance to you, and you only stopped by a handful of times. I mean WTF people? You know, when I was a kid, I would have died to have lived so close to a gym that was regularly pumping olympians in and out of its doors. Do you know how many people have approached me with the same comment, " Ohh you're leaving. I'm so sad. I should have came by sooner."
On the positive, though some lifters are leaving Maine, some remaine holding the torch in their crossfit boxes and garage gyms. I hope, for Maine's sake, USAW-elite-level lifting will carry-on, carry-on.
As for Florida, I know you guys already have a few good gyms, and you actually have weightlifting as a high school sport. I'm sure there's room for one more. I think the space coast can use a pure Olympic lifting beacon. It's a big state. Glad to be here lifting unattached for myself.
My non-lifting thoughts on Maine:
Maine is an awesome place. It is gorgeous , in all 3 of its seasons- Fall, Winter, and Summer (we don't have a spring...its either snowing or hot during "spring"). The coast is incredible. Its so majestic; it has character with every jagged, rocky-edged cliff. We have lots of pine trees and moose. Though I still haven't seen a moose. I never lived anywhere before where access to nature and free-nature based activities were so readily available. In winter, you can ice skate on a pond or ski down a little hill. The summer and fall the ocean is rife with activity. You can go to some revolutionary war fort or 17th century house or park-like forest and just enjoy walking around in nature, peaking at the ocean or the river with your dog. You can really have unfettered, free adventures. If your backyard is big enough, you could go shooting right outside. And, the place abounds with organic and locally grown food. Traffic is nil, or at least incredibly predictable. The tourists will never learn that there is zero traffic before noon and after 5:30 on a summer Sunday afternoon. Maine is utopia----almost.
So, I will miss Maine.
I need to leave though. We were just kind of stagnating in Maine. Like, we were at a good level, and if we wanted to see a revolutionary change in our progress then we needed to change. Secondly, there is a metaphysical force sweeping me to Florida , or , maybe, France. And, that is something for me to write about another time, perhaps, when you are more ready to hear it.
Maine, It's been good. See ya around bae.